Projection; the missile of evolution.

Human beings don’t just adapt to their environment, they create and control it.  Ever since the early hominids developed an opposable thumb that enabled them to grasp and manipulate objects, they could make things happen.   The ability to throw missiles is a metaphor for how we could influence events at a distance, not only in space but also in time.  The use of tools to make shelters, to control external sources of energy allowed us to escape the urgent prerogatives of survival and find time to think.   Within the space of a few generations, humanoids endowed with the magic of manipulation,  could create the future by intention .   

Evolution does not happen by the gradual accretion of advantage,  it is jerked forwards by a change in environment.  That is what is thought to happen with our ancient ancestors.  A change in climate in eastern Africa constricted the forest, concentrating the apes that lived there and creating a niche on the edge, where the tall grassland encroaches, a space where only those apes with upright postures and opposable thumbs could hunt in.  Within the space of few generations,  certain humanoids have developed a specialised way of life; they became upright savannah apes that hunted in packs with spears and missiles.    

One advance creates the space of opportunity for other adaptations to occur. Using tools and  throwing missiles required a big, strategic brain to imagine, plan, predict and create.   Up to a point these abilities could be learnt by the small chimpanzee-like brain of our early ancestors, but those who had bigger and more clever brains were quicker and better at it, would survive at the expense of the others.   No longer did the strongest and fiercest inherit the earth by fear, the ability to create the future at a distance allowed the development of a meritocracy based on intelligence.  All that was required was the ability to project, not just physically, but literally throw one’s mind forward,  to imagine the way things might be, how others might think, to create a world out of our own mind.  Discovery always favours a mind, prepared by imagination and necessity.    And with imagination comes  strategy, planning, forecast, insight, hope, anticipation, and meaning; all the tools needed  to build a civilisation.

Survival on the savannah needed teamwork, the ability to work together as a group.  The maverick and loner would just starve.   Teamwork requires empathy and identification, the ability to project our wishes and desires onto others, to inspire them and create a group identity, based on meaning.  If people share the same meaning, then they will stay together and help each other.  So tribes stayed together and developed into larger communities not just because of a practical need, but because the tribe could preserve  the word, the identity that held them together.  Having an imaginative brain allowed human beings to derive meaning from things to make sense of their environment, to interpret, tell stories, invent Gods.

We begin to see the enormous advance the upright posture and opposable thumb, how these features allowed humans to project their minds into an infinity of intellectual space, rich in possibility.   

Godlike, we have produced a world in our own image and become adapted to that world.  We have determined our own evolution;  narcissism on an universal  scale.   No longer the tough stone age survivors, fighting to stay alive, dependant on the exigencies of the external environment, constantly on the move to where it is warmer and there is food,  we have tamed the wilderness and created a society, in which we can produce all we need, shelter, energy, food, water, entertainment. 

But in order to do this, we have had to forge ever more complex collaborations.  We have outgrown the narrow self centred confines of the tribe to develop much larger societies with different values, different priorities.   The ever increasing size of our communities from tribes to villages, to towns, cities, countries and finally a global community linked electronically, not only required a major logistic exercise in providing basic human utilities to everybody, but also created the need for civilisation, laws, morals and manners to keep such large in control.  Only those whose behaviour is compatible with the customs of society, will be allowed the freedom to live and breed in that society. Those who are more assertive and aggressive have been weeded out, killed, locked up, exiled. 

So we have we inbred domestication and passivity by our civilisation and laws.  We have selected out dangerous characteristics such as aggression,  ruthlessness,  physical strength and activity, and bred in other characteristics like laziness, passivity, dependency and overeating.  We have tamed ourselves.  And since aggression and physical strength are male prerogatives,  the new man has become more feminine. Civilisation means that men no longer seize their women by force, the power of selection is in the arms of the women, who arguably have a greater grasp of human nature.  And women are more likely to seek out sensitive, caring men to breed with.  They in turn will rear more sensitive children.     

All of this has created a different strain of human being, passive, a civilised, comfort seeking, intelligent and inventive creature.  Experiments conducted in Novobirsk, Eastern Siberia has shown that selective breeding over 50 generations has succeeded in domesticating Silver Foxes.  They become tame like dogs. The strange thing is that in breeding out aggression, other characteristics change too, like the colour of their coats and the shape of their heads, their ears and their tails.  In fact, they become like puppies.  Selective breeding for domesticity favours juvenile characteristics.

Has the same thing happened in human societies?  Has sexual selection succeeded in breeding out aggressive characteristics?   Are we all just big babies?   Have we bred domesticity in ourselves and in doing so become passive, lazy, needy and child-like?   And like the domesticated foxes,  have these social characteristics of being tamed, altered our appearance and the diseases we are predisposed to?    Has it, for example, caused us to become fatty and less hairy.  Has the combination of neediness and passivity predisposed to a plethora of diseases of civilisation; obesity, diabetes, heart attacks as well illnesses related to depression, such as Fibromyalgia and Irritable Bowel Syndrome?

Obesity and depression are the two most common illnesses of western society, affecting more than half the population.  Obesity is a disease of passive overconsumption and insufficient exercise.   We are consuming more than we need and we no longer need to work to get it.  There is an abundance of high energy food in infinite variety in our supermarkets.  Most of it is ready prepared and cooked and just requires reheating.  And without the basic requirements to hunt and fight, there is little need to exercise.  We travel to work in our cars and trains, we get our entertainment from the television, we do not even need to go out to work; we can work from our homes.  We don’t even need to get out of bed. 

In fact, we can exist without ever having to meet other people.  With personal computers, many people have their office at home.  No wonder we become quite isolated and depressed.    

If we remove the need to hunt, to build our own houses, to fight and compete, then we remove personal initiative.   And without human contact and something to strive for, life has little meaning.   We just exist, eating, drinking and sitting in front of the television,  rendered inert by the trappings of our own civilisation. Chronically bored, eating becomes less a necessity, more a displacement activity.  Many obese people are depressed.          

A few years ago,  I walked out from Malleleuca along Tasmania’s South Coast Track, carrying all the food I needed for 9 days on my back.  Meals were rationed; just enough for sustenance and no extra. I walked continuously from dawn to dusk across traversing precipitous mountain ridges interrupted by boggy valleys.  I felt more alive than I had for years and lost over nearly a stone in weight.